One of the things I really enjoyed as mayor was stopping by a fire station around lunchtime. Firefighters really know how to cook. But they seldom get to eat uninterrupted.
It turns out lunchtime is one of the busiest times of the day for the Madison Fire Department. This is not because fires tend to start at midday, though. It's because older folks tend to move around more, getting their lunch together. Some of them choke on their food, some have heart attacks, and some fall down. In fact, 80% of the calls to the fire department are for paramedics. Wouldn't it be better to prevent many of those calls if we could?
The small city of Eagle, Colorado (population 15,000) is experimenting with a preventive program called "community paramedics." The idea is to identify heavy users of the 911 system and then meet with them to offer ideas on how to make their homes safer and their bodies more nimble. For example, the community paramedic teaches simple exercises that can go a long way toward increasing strength and improving balance to prevent falls. For a $1.5 million investment, they expect to save $10 million over five years.
This program in Colorado and similar campaigns elsewhere around the country are profiled in a New York Times story published last Sunday.
We already have a good start here in Madison. The Safe Communities Coalition has been at work on falls prevention for a while now, and my neighbor Dr. Andy Kosseff is a nationally recognized expert on this issue. Moreover, our fire department is among the most progressive and innovative in the nation.
What we might do here is put together a working group that includes Madison Fire Department leadership from both the command staff and the union, Public Health Madison & Dane County, the Safe Communities Coalition, Dane County 911 and medical experts like Andy to develop a program. It would be good for public health and good for the public bottom line.
This is a timely issue, as there are 77 million aging baby boomers (including me), and without some intervention, the falls and calls are just going to keep on coming.